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Small shrubs with large importance? Smaller deer may increase the moose-forestry conflict through feeding competition over Vaccinium shrubs in the field layer

Spitzer, Robert; Coissac, Eric; Felton, Annika; Fohringer, Christian; Juvany, Laura; Landman, Marietjie; Singh, Navinder J.; Taberlet, Pierre; Widemo, Fredrik; Cromsigt, Joris P. G. M.


The moose (Alces alces) is a dominant large mammalian herbivore in the world's boreal zones. Moose exert significant browsing impacts on forest vegetation and are therefore often at the centre of wildlife-forestry conflicts. Consequently, understanding the drivers of their foraging behaviour is crucial for mitigating such conflicts. Management of moose in large parts of its range currently largely ignores the fact that moose foraging is influenced by increasing populations of sympatric deer species. In such multispecies systems, resource partitioning may be driven by foraging height and bite size. Feeding competition with smaller species might replace larger species from the field layer and drive them towards higher foraging strata offering larger bites. This bite size hypothesis has been well documented for African ungulate communities. Based on a large diet DNA metabarcoding dataset we suggest that feeding competition from three smaller deer species (red deer Cervus elaphus, fallow deer Dama dama, and roe deer Capreolus capreolus) over Vaccinium shrubs in the forest field layer might drive moose towards increasing consumption of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in Sweden. We found that in areas of high deer density, moose diets consistently contained less Vaccinium and higher proportions of pine over three spring periods. Utilization of these food items by the smaller deer species was either unaffected by deer density or, for Vaccinium showed the opposite pattern to moose, i.e., increases of proportions in the diet of roe and red deer with increasing deer density. Availability of pine and Vaccinium, measured as proportion of available bites, did not explain the observed patterns. Our results suggest that managing key food items like Vaccinium and the populations of smaller deer may play an important role in controlling browsing impacts of moose on pine.


DNA metabarcoding; Bite size; Foraging behaviour; Resource partitioning; Deer; Alces alces

Publicerad i

Forest Ecology and Management
2021, Volym: 480, artikelnummer: 118768
Utgivare: ELSEVIER